My tweenager returned to school but my preschooler will remain at home – Vivienne Solomons

When schools closed on March 18 due to government implementing a national lockdown, my eldest son still had three weeks left of the first term of 2020. So, he was sent home with work packs for each subject and we set about doing school from home.

Like so many others in the same situation, we found this “new normal” that we were suddenly thrust into, a challenge, from keeping to a routine to accomplishing the daily work tasks. The fact that I had now become not only parent but also teacher proved to be a real test of our parent-child relationship.

Then, at the start of Term 2 in early May, subsequent to Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga’s announcement that schools would reopen only on June 1, my son’s school transitioned to online learning. Short video lessons, subject notes and worksheets were all now available by means of an online application.

Although it resulted in an increased workload for his teachers, this new set-up made the transition to at-home learning easier for us both and, I think my son would agree, more enjoyable.

Meanwhile, the question of his return to school was never far from my thoughts. His school principal would refer to it in weekly video addresses to all the scholars. His teachers would tell him and his classmates, in their Zoom Q&A classes, how the preparations for their return were progressing, from marking out the courtyard for morning lineups to the spacing of desks and the placement of sanitiser around the school property.

Initially, when we discussed the possibility of his returning to school, my son was hesitant and so we, as his parents, decided to pause the conversation right there, at least for the time being. Some days, I felt confident and optimistic about his safety at school. On other days, I could not foresee a time when I would ever be comfortable with him attending school in the face of an ever-increasing infection rate and the accompanying rise in mortality.

It was such a difficult decision to make, more so for me than my husband. On the one hand, I cautiously agreed with my son’s return. On the other, I felt very strongly that schools should not be opened at all – at least not this side of the peak of the curve, the “curve” being the graph that represents the projected number of people who will contract Covid-19 over a period of time. But in the end, the decision was not only mine to make.

Later, when the much-anticipated June 1 start at his school was postponed at the last minute, due to the fact that the independent schools were now required to apply for special condonation to deviate from the department’s staggered return of all the grades, he told me how disappointed he was, certainly more disappointed than he expected to be, and ultimately, why it was important for him to return to school – even in the midst of a pandemic.

In the event, my tweenager returned to school on June 8 and, by all accounts, is handling the many recent changes at school, necessitated by efforts to curb the spread of the virus, very well.

These are the factors we considered before agreeing to his request to return to school:

• Although at the age of 12 he may not be able to comprehend all the information out there concerning Covid-19, he knows enough to be aware that the virus is a potential threat to his and everyone else’s health. For that reason, the generally accepted hygiene protocols that his school implemented are not only important but he also needs to follow them;
• The school that he attends is small, but well-resourced, which makes appropriate social distancing while at school both possible and sustainable in the long term;
• He is in good physical health, with no underlying pre-existing medical conditions and so he is not at increased risk should he become infected with the virus, and
• The same can be said of the rest of our household.

Given that my youngest son is a preschooler and not yet able to follow instructions with any consistency, together with the fact that the school he attends caters for a large number of children in a relatively small space, means that he will not be returning to school when it opens, which is expected to be sometime in July. We will, however, revisit this decision post the peak of infections, later in the year.

I am painfully aware that our family’s experience and struggles in this regard are not representative of the experience of the majority of families with schoolgoing children in South Africa, and it is not my intention to portray it as such. Access (in the broadest sense) to basic education in this country has arguably never been equal, a fact made all the more evident since Covid-19 reached our shores.

Given that we are all, not only in South Africa but the world over, faced with the global health crisis that this virus represents, each of us needs to make decisions according to our faith and trust in God, and based on our particular set of circumstances, prayerfully weighing up both the benefits and the risks associated with that decision.

This is true whether we are discussing homeschooling our children rather than sending them back to school for now or how we can trim our budgets to weather financial uncertainty in the future.

The struggles we face are, of course, relative but they are also subjective and, if we are to overcome them, no matter how trivial by comparison they may seem to someone else, cannot be denied and should be brought before our Father in Heaven who cares for us and is well acquainted with every detail of our lives.

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